Now by most runners’ standards, I’m not very good at it. I can’t run exceptionally fast, and I can’t run exceptionally far and in my days as a beginner, this was a source of great frustration.
You see the thing is, I was born, as my husband likes to put it, into a family of gazelles. They love to run, and they’re really, really good at it. Whether it’s fast or whether it’s far, they can do it both. Trying to validate my own efforts against that backdrop was also complicated by my asthma.
I guess it makes sense when I say that I didn’t always love running. In fact it would probably be more accurate to say that at one point in my life, I really hated running. The truth is, I led a fairly sedentary lifestyle as a teenager. And yes that’s a very nice way of saying I was a teenage couch potato. I’d like to say it was because I was more intellectual back then; that I made chess my ‘sport’ of choice, but that wouldn’t be true. And besides, that’s a conversation for a different time.
Point is, I wasn’t very active and when, as an adult, I finally decided to become more active and get into shape, it was really hard.
When I began, my relationship with running was similar to the type you have with that certain colleague or ‘friend’ you sort of ”dislike’. Sometimes you have need of their company, but you’re also completely fine with not seeing them for ages.
I found that when I was frustrated or angry, running became that friend. But when I felt good and in control, I had no use for it. Running is, however, a fairly simple way of getting into shape and so in that spirit I decided to seek its company more often.
Because my brother’s a successful competitive cyclist and runner, he was my early mentor. His wealth of knowledge about running and getting fit proved invaluable. But because he’s such a competitive sort, he kind of ingrained in me the need to track every detail of every run and performance.
I have this spreadsheet on my computer with all my runs. Distances, times, elevations, heart rates; it’s all there. Every run cataloged, every performance ready for scrutiny. How did today’s run compare to a run I made on the same route two years ago? I can look it up.
Eventually, running became all about my watch. If I could just shave off two seconds from a previous time, I must doing something right. Always improving on a previous time though, is a completely unrealistic expectation, and it fed my distaste for running even more.
Eventually I started creating these little rules and conditions required for a run. Not too hot. Not too windy or cold because I get earaches really easy. Not too early or too late, and on and on it went. It became easy to find a reason to avoid running, because I needed conditions to be perfect.
It took a long time to realize that my excuses and distaste for running had way less to do with running and more to do with my head. One day my husband, amazing soul that he is, told me all those excuses were ‘between my ears’.
Just to clarify, he’s very athletic in his own right. But at the time he wasn’t an experienced distance runner, just much less willing to be restricted by his own head-space.
How did I receive this?
I’ll tell you how. I got really angry! 😡 I know what I can and can’t do and how well I can do it. How dare he say something like that; implying that I’m simply making excuses.
Interested in my own personal growth though, I had to go and examine his words.
So one really cool morning, I donned some earmuffs and sweats and hit the road. To my amazement I realized that it was totally doable. No, I didn’t tell a soul. That would mean admitting that I was wrong and I was a long ways away from that. Then one afternoon at the hottest time of the day (well over 30C), I put on some sunscreen and a hat and hit the road. Yes, yet again, I had to admit that it could be done.
Then I took the ultimate step… I went running without a watch. I had no way to check if I was running at training pace, I couldn’t look to see what my heart rate was while running up a hill, or if I was going to have an even split.
With no time to chase, I noticed some trees that were in flower, I heard dogs barking in the distance and birds singing, and I smelled the air. My mind became free to roam and imagine. And as my soul became quiet, running became enjoyable.
It didn’t take long for running to become my quiet time. When it stopped being about performing, which I wasn’t great at to begin with, I learned to love the time in my own head; just me, the road, and my thoughts and sometimes my prayers.
At times, it’s also become a tool for me to discipline my mind. When faced with difficult life situations, I often go for a run. I make sure that conditions are as far from perfect as possible, and I pick the type of running that I like the least and I go and do it. And by the time I’m done, I feel a little less intimidated by life.
Ironically, my performance has improved dramatically. I can even run with my watch again without letting it rule my performance. Because performance is no longer the goal.
I love running.
I’m in the pack there somewhere! 😀